The Set

Elf

SNOW BUSINESS

There's no throw-down-the-fake-flakes-and-start-filming for director Jon Favreau. No, he had to make shooting ''Elf'' complicated. ''I wanted the North Pole to feel nostalgic and small, like the Christmas movies we grew up with,'' says Favreau, whose aim was to re-create the look of old Rankin/Bass TV specials like ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'' ''But we had to learn these filmmaking techniques all over again because nobody still does them.'' To have star Will Ferrell tower over the elfin world, Favreau and production designer Rusty Smith spent hours rearranging tiny artificial trees and constructing houses to two-thirds scale so that the forced perspective would be believable. ''I'd build a house, take a look at it, take a picture of people in front of it, then go back and say 'No, it has to be 10 percent smaller,''' says Smith. Even the snow was a challenge. The standard biodegradable paper flakes threw off too much dust, distorting the images on film. So Smith invented his own recipe of paper flakes and white glue, mixed like cement and applied in layers. It took two days to dry, but the homemade crud did have one benefit: ''It was kind of crunchy,'' says Smith, ''like real snow.''

Smith made the crew wear blue snow booties when walking around the fake-snow set. ''Keeping it white was one of the most difficult things.''

The production designer spent days painting and repainting the softly psychedelic sky to look less busy.

IN SANTA'S WORKSHOP

As fanciful as ''Elf'' is, the film does have visual authenticity. Smith researched Nordic architecture and found examples of post-and-beam houses, whitewashed on the inside ''with little blue flowers.'' He ran with the theme. ''When the decorator started bringing in furniture, I said, 'We're painting it all white...except the toys.' We wanted the toys to jump out.'' As did the costumes, inspired by old Coca-Cola ads and the book ''Gnomes.'' Director Favreau also kept it old-school. ''We wanted to make sure that the shop was very low-tech,'' he says. ''There are a lot of mallets and screwdrivers

Originally posted Nov 14, 2003 Published in issue #737 Nov 14, 2003 Order article reprints
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